Argentina advanced to the Round of 16, and a mouth-watering tie with France, after a fittingly dramatic conclusion to their chaotic Group D campaign. But it took a goal four minutes from time, and a Croatian victory over Iceland, to confirm that often-uncertain outcome.
Jorge Sampaoli had reacted to his side's perilous position by fielding the oldest Argentina line-up ever seen at the FIFA World Cup™, and it was the man who turned 31 this week who looked to have saved this ultra-experienced Albiceleste. But while Lionel Messi's memorable strike, the last of three sublime touches, seemed to have settled Argentinian nerves, Nigeria battled back in the second half to level through a Victor Moses penalty.
At that stage, it was the Super Eagles who were heading through, but a topsy-turvy section tilted again when Marcos Rojo, with the clock ticking down, volleyed home a wildly celebrated winner.
Iceland had, of course, retained hopes of pipping Argentina and Nigeria to second spot, but came unstuck against Group D's outstanding side. In contrast to Argentina, Croatia had fielded their youngest-ever line-up at a World Cup, but they also prospered, preserving their unblemished record in Russia thanks to goals from Milan Badelj and Ivan Perisic.
Earlier in the day, the tournament's record run of 36 games without a goalless draw had come to an inauspicious end in Moscow. And yet, while the match was not feast for the eyes, the result ensured that France and Denmark achieve their respective goals of topping Group C and reaching the last 16.
Peru, for their part, made sure that the Danes' fate was never in much doubt as they ended the tournament on a high and, in the process, ended their eight-match winless run at the global finals. Australia became the first team in four decades to be beaten by Los Incas, for whom Paolo Guerrero - at 34 years and 176 days - became their oldest goalscorer in World Cup history.
Did you know?
In the aftermath of Messi's goal, the same number kept cropping up. It was quickly revealed, for example, that Saint Petersburg Stadium was the 100th arena in which the Argentina captain had scored for club and country. More obvious still was the fact that he had had been responsible for goal number 100 of Russia 2018. This in itself provided some interesting symmetry, with Barcelona players - Andres Iniesta in 2010, Neymar (then on Barça's books) in 2014 and Messi here in Russia - responsible for hitting the century-mark at the last three World Cups.
KOR-GER - Group F, KazanMessi & Rojo rescue Argentina
MEX-SWE - Group F, Ekaterinburg
SRB-BRA - Group E, Moscow (Spartak)
SUI-CRC - Group E, Nizhny Novgorod
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